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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Revolting Slaves & Spartacus, a legend from limited sources, 30 Oct 2009
This review is from: The Spartacus War: The Revolt of the Gladiators (Hardcover)
On page 166 the author asserts, "Spartacus was a failure against Rome but a success as a myth maker... Who, today, remembers Crassus? Pompey. Even Cicero is not that well remembered. Everyone has heard of Spartacus." Well yes they have but that's probably because of the Kurbick film (the one where Michael Douglas's dad played the eponymous hero). And we do remember a great deal of Roman history - Cicero has a following both factual and fictional.

Barry Strauss has written an account of the rebel slave rebellion but the problem is he has next to nothing to tell us that is not speculation. What happened between 73-71 BC is fragmented and often contradictory. Perhaps padding, Strauss presents much basic information on Ancient Rome. Often his comments are reductive to the point of being unhelpful. For example in describing the life of a gladiator, it was more complicated. As for Crassus, who dispatched Spartacus after a six-month campaign, he went on to suffer one of Romes' greatest military defeats. He was presented as a one-dimensional character.

Strauss wrote an excellent book - The Trojan War A New History - where he interpreted Homer (the Iliad and Odyssey) with the archaeological evidence and made clever deductions. He told a great story, good scholarship written with clarity. There is no significant written source or material evidence about Spartacus, the coalition of Thracians, Celts, Germans and the politics of holding a large revolt together. Drawing on bits of information, he speculates about the possible objectives of the rebels, details their flight North, then South, the near escape to Scilly. Their defeat by trained legionnaires, brutally disciplined and well equipped was inevitable. It was a bloody business, half a dozen Roman generals humiliated, skirmishes and battles. Who, when and where aside, the revolt was made far more dangerous given Rome's wars in the West (Spain) and East (Mithridates). Could Rome have imploded? No need to speculate, it did not.

I wonder if Strauss would have been better to take the "Troy formula" and apply it to an area where the written sources are better, perhaps Josephus and the Great Jewish Revolt or Caesar's Gallic War. Here is a substantive body of contemporary writings to review and interpret, apply his deductive expertise. This book is entry level Roman history. A lot of us read on holiday or on a plane, this is not a criticism rather a recommendation for this book if you want to enjoy a low intensity myth and legend history. If you know a little of Rome, this will encourage you to read further but if you know more, and it is not Strauss' fault, this is a frustrating book given the poverty of sources.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 May 2010 16:52:49 BDT
Nothing to do with the book, but I felt I just had to say I now feel very old, having for the first time seen Kirk Douglas described as "Michael Douglas's dad", rather than (my take) Michael Douglas being "Kirk Douglas's son" !

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Aug 2010 16:26:14 BDT
Kentspur says:
I'm with you, Mr Mooney, Kirk's the man - Paths of Glory, Gunfight at the OK Corral, but Michael's pretty good, I like War of the Roses, Falling Down. Hope he gets over his current medical difficulties

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Sep 2010 15:53:09 BDT
I. Buchan says:
As you say 'Kirk' - IS the man however I thought perhaps a reference to Gibbon might have been more apt.

Posted on 18 Sep 2012 20:17:15 BDT
I disagree with these comments, rome in the time of spartacus was a brutal and a very unforgiven place to live. these books do not give the reader the proper out line what these people on both sides had to contend with.

Posted on 18 Sep 2012 20:32:57 BDT
and as far as the movie spartacus is concerned with kirk douglas we do not see or here the screams the blood as the weapon of choice was thrust in to each mans body, poor movie. The books are not much better.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2012 12:04:54 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Sep 2012 18:26:00 BDT
LPN - yes it was brutal and extremely cruel. Equally Rome's greatness was based on the political and economic contribution of many freedmen (manumission).

The tormenting of human flesh for entertainment is - to most of us - disgusting except when we are playing on a games console or 'enjoying' endless horror movies with extreme and ever more graphic violence. Try Spartacus Blood and Sand....

Finally isn't it curious that in the bible, the Ten Commandments, there is no condemnation of slavery. No 1 for me - should have been "Thy shalt not keep Slaves." Isn't that a basic human value transcending any society, classical or modern? I find that very informative.
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